Recovery as a product of maturity

As I’ve probably discussed in previous posts, in my early 20s in college and graduate school, I used to drink alcohol (primarily beer) to excess as a coping mechanism, as a way to medicate against my incredible social awkwardness that is par for the course for those of us with Asperger’s and other forms of autism.  I was not formally diagnosed until much later in life at 39.  I have one public intoxication charge to my name, one DWI and one Reckless Driving charge (which was a plea deal accepted in lieu of a DWI that otherwise would’ve been my first offense)…I used to be a real problem drinker.  But listening to memoirs of career alcoholics like Augusten Burroughs (brother of John Elder Robison), I now have to question if I was ever an Alcoholic with a capital A.  Burrough’s autobiographical work Dry was very eye opening and surprising.  I certainly engaged in binge drinking when I did drink in those years, but restricted such activities to Friday and Saturday nights, though by my 5th undergraduate year in college it reached a point where I was out more nights drinking than not.  It was a trend I continued into graduate school but by the time I joined the adult working world I responsibly limited my recreational drinking back to Friday and Saturday nights.  The fictional depictions of “functional alcoholics” such as the Baltimore detectives on The Wire, say, sucking down half a bottle of whiskey on the job, the very idea of it struck me as repellent and something I’d never do.  On the other hand, those Friday and Saturday evenings were binges and sometimes involved the risky combination of drinking to excess then driving.  I’m very fortunate to have only the limited criminal record that I do for those things, and they are very far in my past now.  I attended AA to appease my parents but I first attained sobriety thanks to Jack Trimpey’s Rational Recovery approach (, which was better suited to me as an atheist.  The best things I got out of AA were hearing the stories of other people’s misfortunes and recovery…while “Steps”-focused, “God-work” type meetings (favored by the most zealous sponsors) were nearly completely a waste of time.

It took a long time, a lot of life experience and growth, and finally growth after my Asperger’s diagnosis to come to a deeper understanding of why I used to drink the way I did, and why that way of life no longer has any appeal for me at age 44, while it seemed so seductive and fun at 24, say.  I would wager that at 24, I was still desperate to be accepted by my peers, desperate to fit in, to be regarded as cool, or at least smart & witty.  I was desperate to get in girls’ pants or at least feel them up.  At 44, as a relatively contented divorcee to boot, I can tell my libido has at long last begun to wane somewhat.  It’s far from gone, but it isn’t so painfully insistent as it was in my 20s and 30s.  I drank in my 20s and 30s seeking temporary escape and refuge from anxiety and boredom.  Videogames replaced drinking when I was on probation for my first official DWI, and nowadays, I can reasonably say that Anime has replaced drinking as my primary source of fun and entertainment.  If I am out and about and thought to myself, would I rather hang out at a bar and drink for several hours or go home and watch anime, honestly I’d rather just go home and watch anime 9 times out of 10.  At 24 I used to crave the company and attention of other intelligent, intellectual people.  I got hooked on very intelligent conversations in and around university environments and forever was seeking to recapture these fleeting moments of bliss and always falling short in the end.  Non-academic bars proved to be far more disappointing and unfriendly with uninteresting patrons at best and overtly hostile ones at worst.  When I was teaching high school and thoroughly hating it, I would check out multiple interesting documentary films from the local public library to watch Friday and Saturday nights while drinking imported beer to attain an altered consciousness of sorts.  I would tune in to programs like Hearts of Space when it was still on KUHF 88.7 FM’s regular broadcast lineup for etheral, spacey instrumental music, and while listening and drinking, I would read various intellectually oriented “documentary comic books” on assorted academic subjects.  Later when working for AIG, Inc., I would take adult education Spanish Conversation classes at night after work…then come Fridays and Saturdays I’d work on my Spanish homework while listening to Nuevo Flamenco music while burning incense and drinking copas of gently spicy Sangria wine, or Mexican beers, especially Negra Modelo…again seeking an altered consciousness and a temporary escape from the boredom and anxiety of my undiagnosed everyday Aspie life.

None of that sounds appealing anymore.  Oh, I’d still be interested in the language classes, I suppose, but spending an evening drinking at home no longer holds the appeal for me it once did.

I managed to live a couple of years on my own in Denton, Texas as a working academic librarian and still maintain strict sobriety despite faint temptations to drink.  I lived within walking distance of some swanky downtown bars but never indulged, not even on Fridays and Saturdays.  Instead, I lived like a recluse and devoted my weekend recreation to solid anime-watching from dawn to dusk, a habit supported by a Netflix account (3 rental DVDs at a time) and a Hastings Books & Records membership and a reasonably well stocked anime section there.  When not escaping through anime, I would devote other parts of my down time to watching YouTube and listening to quality atheist podcasts.  I eventually founded the Denton Atheists Meetup to finally have a social outlet every other weekend, because the local college Freethought organizations just weren’t cutting it for me as a working adult librarian.  It was a fun life while it lasted up there, until things went to sh*t at my workplace (due to conflicts with my then boss owing largely to miscommunication stemming from my as yet undiagnosed Asperger’s, I have little doubt).  Losing that job was devastating but still I did not yield to the temptation to drink.

Fast forward to today, my drinking is very moderate and limited to very specific times and places, and outside of those very specific times and places are almost unthinkable to me as even being a possibility or even desirable.  I allow myself to eat out for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and after I’ve had a substantial meal, during which I begin listening to my favorite Lefty political podcasts, I then allow myself to consume approximately 3-4 draught beers over the course of more than one hour, while finishing listening to my podcasts and/or listening to Celtic music on rare occasions.  I don’t talk to other people, am not interested in talking to others, etc.  I just want to be alone with my thoughts and listening to intelligent, like-minded political thinkers for a few hours…or enjoying Celtic music casually just for myself.  It’s the closest I’ll ever get to anything like religious ritual.  I don’t drink more than my pre-set limit, I’m very disciplined about it.  I don’t feel the craving to drink more or the temptation to stay out and away from the house the way I used to in my 20s and 30s where home with my parents felt like a prison I needed to be free from.  Post diagnosis, I’ve stopped beating myself up over the fact that I live at home with my parents and that my job situation always feels too tenuous to risk getting an apartment of my own ever again.  It’s so incredibly common for us Aspie men and I just accept it now.  I recall my first post-divorce dating relationship with my last girlfriend, Lisa, which I conducted while living under this same roof and she didn’t mind at all, since we agreed and worked out that when we spent the night together it would be at her place.  And for a blissful 6 months, I effectively lived at her house on Weekends (Friday night through Sunday morning) and at my folk’s place during the working week at AIG.  It was a blissful way to live for 6 months, wish it could’ve gone on like that indefinitely, but alas, that just doesn’t seem to be the way of this world for very many of us.  I maintained strict sobriety while dating Lisa, too, and she didn’t mind, and didn’t drink very much herself.  We enjoyed each other’s company a great deal, just talking, being affectionate, etc.

I’m not completely opposed to the idea of dating again, but I’m not obsessed about it like I used to be either.  I know I probably don’t want kids, though if I fell in love with someone who really wanted kids (and had the job stability and income to make it work), I might relent on that front.  But I’d be just as happy to hook up with another “Best Friend with Benefits” type of girlfriend in her late 20s through 40s, someone not bothered by the fact I live with my folks and open to the limited selective weekends together kind of thing.  I do have a crush on an old friend-of-a-friend from my college years who now lives in the greater Houston area and with whom I interact infrequently on Facebook.  I could see us potentially dating, and the fantasy about it in my head is stirring and pretty hot, honestly.  I’ve dropped a few hints but the ball is in her proverbial court right now.  May come to nothing, who knows.  I would definitely not make casual drinking out a part of any future dating relationship….that just doesn’t interest me or hold any appeal.  I’d rather have a meal and talk and watch a movie or concert.  I don’t need liquid courage to bolster my confidence the way I did at 24, say (or at least thought I did then).

Far be it from me to sabotage anyone’s sobriety but for me achieving sobriety then shifting to maintaining moderation has largely been a product of getting older, getting diagnosed with an ASD, and coming to terms with my past.  Orthodox AA would say what I’m doing shouldn’t be possible and that I’m in denial yada yada.  I respectfully disagree.  The idea of, say, keeping a six-pack at home and drinking it in one evening (used to do with with 12 packs, when I was 24), just holds zero appeal anymore.  I no longer feel that burning urge to seek an altered state of consciousness the way I did as an undiagnosed Aspie in a great deal of emotional pain & distress in my 20s and 30s.  I’ve learned to appreciate the path of moderation and stick to it as a way of life.  It may not be the ideal solution, but it seems to work for me for now.

The power of self-awareness

Aspies are a quirky bunch, and we each have our own individual quirks. As I get to understand myself better and better, I find myself becoming aware of things that I do that are classic aspie things, like looking for just the right spoon to eat my morning cereal. The funny thing is, as I’m more aware that I do these things, it doesn’t make me want to do them any less. As I look for the spoon with the right shape, depth, and design on the handle, I know that it doesn’t really matter which spoon I use, but I still get the same satisfaction from finding and using the right one.

It really doesn’t matter that some of the things we do are neurotic and unnecessary. If it doesn’t hurt anybody and it gives you a level of peace of mind, it’s fine. We have reasons for wanting to sit at the right spot on the couch while we watch TV, line things up in just the right order, and drink juice from the cup whose color matches the bowl we’re eating dinner from. It might not make sense to other people, but it makes sense to us, and we’re happy to explain if you’re curious. :p

One aspie’s gratitude

Aspies have it tough. I know a few people who are very negative about their aspergers and life in general. As depressing as it can be to be around them for very long, I can see where they’re coming from. After high school, I spent years wondering why I couldn’t go on to live a normal life like everybody else. Realizing that I’m not like everybody else didn’t help much, because it didn’t tell me where I belonged. It only told me where I don’t belong.

But as I drifted through life, some of my choices took me away from the life of misery that I thought I was doomed for. I stopped trying to live to gain everyone else’s approval, and as the stress eased, I was able to think more clearly and make even more wise choices. I grew up, and contrary to popular belief, adulthood has many perks.

I take great pride in little things that other people would take for granted, like when I met with clients recently to discuss their wedding and what kind of pictures they want me to take. My girlfriend helped me to pick out a suit, and I got a great deal on a very nice one. I do volunteer work and build a reputation as a productive member of a community. I love that I can use my talents and skills to serve other people, because for so long, I felt like an outsider.

Finding a way to do what I like to do in order to serve other people was the key to finding my place in the world, and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me along the way.